JA Topeka Business Hall of Fame: Mary Turkington
Mary Turkington doesn’t look like a trucker. She doesn’t talk like one either. But she proudly holds the title of “first lady of trucking”—a title she earned through her more than five decades of service to the Kansas Motor Carriers Association (KMCA).
As a member of the first class to graduate from the William Allen White School of Journalism, Turkington planned to be a journalist. Three days after completing her degree at the University of Kansas, Turkington began her career with KMCA as editor of the association’s newly published trade magazine, The Kansas Transporter.
Responsible for both content and advertising sales throughout the state, Turkington found herself on the road two weeks out of a month. Within six months, the association had to reduce her commission rate because she was earning more than the manager.
“I think I surprised them,” Mary recalled. “I didn’t surprise myself though. I knew I had it in me.”
Member of the Third House
She remembers those early days fondly because that time on the road taught her not only about the trucking industry, but also more about the state of Kansas. That knowledge served her well when the association sent her to represent their policies before the Kansas Legislature in 1951.
She spent the next 45 years lobbying to improve the lives of KCMA truckers and their families, researching bills and working closely with elected representatives.
“Some of the finest men and women in the state served in the Kansas Legislature,” Turkington said.
Breaking the Glass Ceiling
When Turkington was named Managing Director of KMCA in 1968, she was only one of two women in the country to hold such a state position. She humbly attributes her success as a woman in a man’s world to her upbringing.
One of four children (the only girl) growing up on a farm, she knew the value of hard work by both men and women.
“My mom worked as hard as my dad did,” Turkington said. “They were equal partners in everything.”
She took that lesson into her own career.
“I found truckers to be a lot like my mom and dad,” she said. “The mom answered the phone and kept the books; the dad drove the truck. It took both to make a successful business.”
After her retirement from KMCA in 1997, Gov. Bill Graves appointed Turkington to the Kansas Turnpike Authority, where she served 16 years. She served as Chair for 12 of those years.
“That was a pure pleasurable 16 years,” Turkington beamed. “It was an agency on which you could serve with confidence.”
In addition to her years of service with KMCA, Turkington was active in numerous organizations:
National Chair of the American Trucking Association’s Highway Policy Committee
Chair of Transportation 2000 Committee
Chair of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce
Chair of Kids Voting Kansas
President of the State Chapter of the American Society of Association Executives
President of the Public Relations Society of America State Chapter
President of the Topeka Capitals Baseball Club
Board Member of Kansas Historical Foundation
Turkington’s service to Kansas has not gone unnoticed:
In October of 1996, Turkington was awarded the S. Earl Dove Award, the American Trucking Association’s most distinguished honor.
Jan. 17, 1997 was declared Mary E. Turkington Day in Topeka, Kan.
In 2011, Turkington was awarded an honorary membership in the International Bridge Tunnel & Turnpike organization. An honor usually reserved for past presidents of that organization.
“Always be real. Recognize that you never do it all by yourself. If someone offers help, accept it. Be the kind of person that others want to help.”
- Mary Turkington